How often do we hear that Israel’s maritime blockade and overland embargo of certain materials and foodstuffs is a ‘collective punishment of the people of Gaza?
The argument goes like this: Gazans are not responsible for the actions of Hamas, who govern the Gaza Strip; the rockets and suicide bombings and kidnappings are not the fault of the ordinary citizen. Therefore Israel, in reducing the quantity and variety of foodstuffs and embargoing building materials, is collectively punishing Gazans.
This is a strange argument, especially as Hamas were elected by these same innocent citizens. When South Africa suffered under Apartheid there was no separation of government from people; sanctions were applied internationally to those who had not elected anyone. No-one would argue that the German people should not have been bombed in case they did not vote for or support the Nazi regime.
In fact, the idea of collective punishment originates in the American Civil War and General Sherman’s Special Field Order 120, article V:
To army corps commanders alone is entrusted the power to destroy mills, houses, cotton-gins, etc…, and for them this general principle is laid down: In districts and neighborhoods where the army is unmolested, no destruction of such property should be permitted; but should guerrillas or bushwhackers molest our march, or should the inhabitants burn bridges, obstruct roads, or otherwise manifest local hostility, then army commanders should order and enforce a devastation more or less relentless according to the measure of such hostility.
In more recent times Sherman’s measured proportionality, which would be universally condemned today by every Human Rights organisation and NGO, was given a bad name by the forces of Nazi Germany who would destroy whole villages and massacre all the inhabitants because one German had been assassinated. The most famous incident being that of the Czech town of Lidice which was wiped off the face of the earth after partisans assassinated Heydrich, a leading Nazi.
Indeed, the provisions of the Versailles Treaty after the end of World War I could be viewed as a collective punishment of the German people which was a major cause of World War II, as was the forced ethnic cleansing of Germans from Poland after territory had been ceded after World War II.
In light of the hundreds of trucks and thousands of tonnes of humanitarian aid passing through checkpoints between Israel and Gaza every week, by any standard Israel’s treatment of Gazans, who live in a state of belligerence with Israel, is somewhat generous.
Those who accuse Israel of collective punishment often couple this with a call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of the Jewish state. If Israel’s treatment of Gazans is collective punishment and morally wrong, why is the proposed collective punishment of Israelis for the policies of their government not morally reprehensible. After all, the BDS brigade wants to hurt Israel economically, including, of course, its Arab citizens. By their own judgment, are the BDS supporters not proposing the same morally reprehensible action of which they accuse Israel? If collective punishment of Israel is acceptable why carp about the plight of Gaza?
I suspect the answer is that BDS is, for many of its supporters, not simply a tool to pressure Israel into a more humanitarian approach but fundamentally to undermine the State of Israel, to soften it up for the coup de grâce, and ultimately destroy it.
Israel is under attack on many fronts: militarily (Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran by proxy via the both of the former), politically (UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council, antipathy in Europe, South America and the Muslim world), legally (Goldstone Report, challenges to Occupation, security wall, blockade etc.), academically (academic boycotts, disinvitations etc.) and finally by fanatical Islamism (calling for Israel’s destruction and a new genocide of the Jewish People by Hamas, by historical revisionism denying Jewish connection with the Land, blood libels, brain-washing of children to hate and revile Jews by, inter alia, the Palestinian Authority).
And so this demonization continues, which seems to be the main focus and raison d’être of so many radical Muslims and their fellow travelers of various stripes.
The United States is not innocent in the application of its own BDS with regard Cuba. Where are the calls in the UN for sanctions against the USA for the collective punishment of Cubans? Why is the Security Council not in a constant state of outrage against Russia’s treatment of Chechens or Ossetians, Turkey’s treatment of Kurds, China of Tibetans? What is being done about the starving millions of North Korea? Only Israel can cause the UN Security Council to convene and condemn it within hours every time Israel has the temerity to defend itself.
Israel is not perfect. Gazans are suffering, but this fixation with one conflict which so monopolizes the UN and world politics is symptomatic of a pathology which leads to moral blindness, bullying and demonisation.
And now we have the disgusting spectacle of a unanimous decision by the Unite union in the UK to pursue BDS against Israel.
Even the Palestinian Authority doesn’t go this far as reported by YNetNews:
The Palestinian finance minister stressed Sunday that the boycott on Israeli products pertains only to goods produced in settlements, and that the Palestinian Authority desires to maintain ties with the Israeli market.
“We have excellent ties with the Israeli market and we want to continue this cooperation and even expand it,” Dr. Hasan Abu-Libdeh said at a conference held at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv.
Do I hear the distant echo of the 1930’s?